Category: House Plants

Composting – Emily Style

Composting – Emily Style

It’s Gold For The Gardener

IMGP0265 (2)Who would get excited about worms? Well, Emily does and by the end of our October Garden Club meeting, many members and guests were all talking about… you guessed it – worms. Not just any worms. Red Wigglers, that produce that gold for gardeners while using up our kitchen waste.

I found it difficult to remember to take pictures while Emily was enthusiastically describing the process she uses for general gardening composting and then moving on to her higher passion for the little wigglers.

She described composting as fun, good exercise, cheap and environmentally sound, a way to increase the organic content of the soil, invigorating the soils food web, providing nutrients, moisture and a habitat for a huge range of beneficial life forms.

Emily explained that in most soils you can achieve a fertile soil by adding 3” of compost annually by composting kitchen and yard waste (with a few exceptions like meat/fish, bones, milk)


Raised beds, a small greenhouse, a rotation of composting bins and a large pile of leaves can be seen waiting to be added where next needed.

A description of compost systems, principals and mixtures were reviewed.

IMGP0281 (2)It was easy to see the smile broaden across Emily’s face when she continued her presentation.

Vermicomposting holds a special place in her household. As with composting, the benefits are numerous. Emily explained that it is a great way to deal with some of our kitchen scraps and get rich soil conditioner for our plants. A vermicompost bin does not require a lot of space (ie: under the kitchen sink). Bedding is the medium the worms live in and also serves as part of their diet. It should be moist, but not soggy wet and light in texture. Shredded newspaper is a common choice. Emily added compost soil and a small amount of kitchen scraps. Feeding the worms one to three times a week is usually sufficient.

Outdoor vermicomposting is also possible. A well built large, lined bin serves this purpose producing three large wheelbarrow loads of “Gardener’s Gold” for use each spring.

Harvesting safety.

Joan was thrilled to take home the bin that Emily used while explaining the “under the sink” set up and members were happy to accept a take-home brown-bag treat of compost for use on indoor plants.

Thanks, Emily!

Smitten with Succulents

Smitten with Succulents


I recently took a good look at the plants that have gained permanent residence inside our home. Other than two violets which belonged to a dear friend, the rest belong to the family referred to as succulents.

Succulents have a supernatural ability to survive in nearly any climate from growing across a rugged terrain to sprouting up inside a dainty teacup on a windowsill. These plants prove their toughness by storing water in fleshy leaves, fighting long periods of drought and producing new roots and rosettes. Today, the popularity of the desert dwellers arise from their resiliency, ease of propagation and exquisite formations.

Succulents grow well together in larger pots, but they are equally admirable in smaller individual vessels. Adding to their secret superpowers they won’t outgrow small containers, making them thoughtful accents for a home or office windowsill.

Succulents, which include cacti, grow both in non draining and draining containers. For pots with no holes you might be tempted to add a layer of rocks to the bottom to create a drainage layer. While this sounds good in theory expert Debra Lee Baldwin , writer of “Succulents Simplified” and “Succulent Container Gardens” advises against this practice saying that a layer of rocks provides an area for bacteria to grow. Under watering is actually a better solution. She says to use well aerated soil designed for succulents and cacti and top the soil with pebbles or gravel for a finished look.

For indoor growing select a bright location, preferably near a south or east window. Windowsills make a lovely perch, but check to make sure the plants aren’t getting too much sun, especially if they are young and newly planted. The concern is that UV rays, magnified by window glass, may sunburn the leaves.

The number 1 secret for succulents is to not over water them. Give them a good soak and wait for them to dry out. And keep in mind non draining containers such as mason jars, stone mugs and tea cups require lighter showers.

Once you start experimenting with the endless style combinations that succulents have to offer don’t be surprised if you start rummaging through garage sales or thrift shops for interesting vessels. It is nothing more than a sign that you, like me have become smitten with succulents.

On the Inside Looking Out

On the Inside Looking Out

Finally, we’re into late February, and we’re longing for a touch of Spring.  Today, the view outside our window is one of snowy fields and leaden skies.  The sun visited for a few hours yesterday afternoon but soon disappeared behind the clouds despite heartfelt requests that it stay around. Even some of the indoor plants are refusing to cooperate.  An Amaryllis potted up with great expectations last fall has expended all its energy on long healthy leaves with nary a sign of a flower bud in the offing.

A leggy heron contemplates a leggy Amaryllis

A few of the good old reliables are still providing colour, however,  even if those colours  come from bracts and not petals.  What about “Christmas poinsettias that last into spring” – a little riff on the Julie Andrews’ song.


We’re grateful for this brilliant splash of colour indoors.  The plant was bought as part of a fund-raiser for the Chester Playhouse in early December and is still brightening up the “indoor garden” in the last week of February.

Another carry-0ver from last fall is a Christmas cactus that put forth a full cascade of blooms in November but has come back for an encore in recent weeks.  The strange white “stems” seen behind the flowers are actually roots from an orchid that has been gradually expanding its territory by sending out shoots across several other plants thriving congenially in a window nook.  Perhaps a consultation with a Master Gardener is in order.

christmas cactus close up
A Christmas cactus re-blooming in February

With a little TLC and a lot of luck, a Cyclamen like the one below will carry over for several years despite the vagaries of central heating, vacationing owners and other hazards.

An old favourite, the provenance of this Cyclamen is unknown

Forcing blooms is one of the age-old methods of hurrying spring along. The forsythia branches below,  cut about ten days ago, make a convincing statement about the forthcoming season.

The graceful lines of Forsythia branches encircle a Balinese musician

Seen in close-up, the delicate forms of these “buttercup yellow” flowers on bare stems, are a reminder of nature’s promise of spring to come.

forsythia close-up

And for Chester gardeners who are eager to start planning this year’s garden, the NSAGC is offering extra Astilbe plants at an excellent price.  All members in each club belonging to the provincial body will be eligible for one free Astilbe at this year’s convention, but members may also order additional plants (in our Club, through Sandy D).  This fast-growing fragrant plant,  “Younique Carmine”,  bears beautiful fuchsia-red blooms.  It is an early heavy bloomer, deer and rabbit resistant, and is excellent for the flower border or for planters.  For more information, contact Sandy via

Fall Weather Has Gardeners Looking to House Plants

Fall Weather Has Gardeners Looking to House Plants

A cold north wind and much lower temperatures have arrived, following the warm wet weather that we had experienced when the fringes of Hurricane Sandy blew past Chester. Now that a hard frost has finished off most of the annuals in the garden and fall’s colourful foliage is no more than a memory, some gardeners are turning once again to indoor plants.

A novice’s experiment with orchids has resulted in a growth spurt of large leaves emerging from a repotted mystery plant, along with a corresponding gradual loss of blooms from a lovely fuschia Phalaenopsis.  When the latter was bought in May, it sported a single stalk of blooms and later developed another stalk without help from the owner! Now that the flowers are dropping off (six months later) it is time to seek advice concerning the care and feeding of orchids. The next step will be to contact the local orchid society and, as usual, surf the net.

Christmas cacti are now beginning to add their exotic floral contributions to this indoor display. Somehow, early November seems a little early for a plant tagged “Christmas” but mine always appear about the same time every year.

The orchid on the right, seen against the background of a snow-covered lawn, was photographed in a past winter. There hasn’t been a snow-fall here yet!

One of the less common house plants in this community is the Anthurium, a tropical plant that does best in medium light. Having recently received one of these plants as a gift, it seemed appropriate to find out how to care for it, which is why I turned once again to the internet.  There, I found the site, a comprehensive source of information devoted to several species of tropical plants including Anthuriums as well as Spathiphyllums and Orchids.

Anthurium, variety unknown

Written by Steve Lucas, with credits to professional botanists, the site provides detailed information on the basic factors to consider when growing any of those tropical plants. Sections describing the best soil composition, preferred light conditions and considerations re humidity and watering are clear and consistent. Botanical terms are provided in a lengthy glossary; photographs illustrate the varying species; and, throughout the different sections, one basic theme concerning the feeding and caring for these tropical plants is repeated : “Listen to Mother Nature. Her advice is best.”

I learned that the “flower” of the Anthurium pictured above,  is more like a “flower holder” since it is a modified leaf, or bract, known as the spathe. Together,  the spadix (a sort of tongue that grows up from the spathe) and the spathe form a collective structure called the inflorescence.  Actually, the spadix at its centre can grow a group of very tiny flowers but, as Steve Lucas writes,  most people need a magnifying glass to see them.

There is a wealth of information on this site, which owes much of its photography to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis although the author’s own botanical garden is in Arkansas. The information ranges from helpful hints for creating an ideal composition of loose soil, to the importance of avoiding limestone for the pebble base underneath plants that are sitting in a water-tray, to tips on building your own rainforest habitat.  The site covers so much material that I felt I was studying for a Master’s course but it also provides other useful (if more mundane) content, such as the simple definitions that clarify the difference between a “stem”  – which is the plant’s base or axis –  and a “petiole”  – which is the stalk that connects the leaf blade to the stem.

The site also includes the option of a virtual tour through a private botanical garden, complete with the sounds of tree frogs and a waterfall.  And once you’ve come back to reality, ready to face Chester’s grey November landscape, remember to hightail it to the club’s Annual General Meeting on Monday, November 19, where Brenda Hiltz will discuss some of the native and imported species of flora in our area.  As for the fauna, we hope those deer hightail it out of our yards too!

White-tailed deer dash away from under your blogger’s apple trees